Opioid crisis worsens in British Columbia

Dec 11, 2018

Canada has been undergoing an opioid crisis, and unfortunately it is not improving. According to recent information put out by the Public Health Agency of Canada, from January 2016 to March 2018, an average of nearly ten people die every day due to an illicit drug overdose.

Although this crisis affects all of Canada the province which has the most serious situation is British Columbia. According to data from the British Columbia Coroners Service the amount of people who have died from accidental drug overdose has doubled in the last four years. In 2011 the number of deaths from illicit drug overdose was 293 and in 2016 it was 639.

The data collected shows that those who have been affected by this crisis are varied. Some of those who died had never been in contact with a governmental system such as hospital, employment, social income assistance or judicial, while others had a touchpoint with the system before their overdose occurred.

The information released takes data from numerous sources including Statistics Canada, City of Surrey, Surrey RCMP, Fraser Health Authority, BC Stats, and the British Columbia Coroners Service. With all of these sources giving statistical information they have been able to put together a very comprehensive look at how much interaction those affected have had with the system. This overview is the first step to figuring out how the system is failing and in what ways it can be improved to stop these unnecessary deaths from occurring.

Health Services

Of those who died of overdoses in British Columbia 26% had at least one “acute care in-patient hospitalization” in the year prior to their death. The most common reason for the hospitalizations, 20% of the 26%, were due to substance-abuse disorders, with 17% specifically being admitted due to opioid poisoning.

40% of those who overdosed visited the emergency room in the year prior to their death, and 15% visited the emergency room four or more times.

Knowing that many of the individuals with substance abuse disorders had touchpoints with Health Services in the year prior to their death begs the question if more can be done for those who have entered the system. What systems have been set up, or can be set up to support these individuals once they leave the hospital to help them overcome their disorder.

Police Contact

Within this data police contact was considered to occur when a person was accused of criminal activity, not when they were the victim, witness or complainant.

Most of those who overdosed did not have contact with the police in the two years prior to their deaths. Of the approximately one third of people who did have contact with the police in the 24 months prior to their overdose, 11% did so four or more times. Most of those individuals who did come into contact with the police did so for non-violent crimes with shoplifting under $5,000 being the most common.

Of those who had contact with the police prior to their deaths three quarters fatally overdose within one year of that police contact.

It is hoped that this detailed information about those who are overdosing will help to better understand the multiple pathways leading to the these very unfortunate incidents. By identifying when and where these individuals came into contact with the system it can help in the development of evidence-informed interventions to help prevent drug-related deaths in the future.